Saturday, June 14, 2008

Keep On Keepin' On

After a couple days' rest, Koreans returned to the streets last night in memory of two schoolgirls who were killed accidentally by a US military transport in 2002. A US military court acquitted the soldiers who were driving the transport, which touched off protests.

This was not unreasonable: US soldiers who commit certain crimes can usually expect cover-ups and amazing lenience from their superiors. When a gay American sailor was brutally murdered by fellow sailors in 1992, for example, the Navy tried to claim he'd killed himself by accident. It took a protracted campaign by the victim's mother to get the Navy to bring the killers to trial. US forces in Korea and elsewhere have often exhibited a disturbing casualness about the lives of the locals. Here's an interesting right-wing take on the incident, ostensibly by an American GI, full of Red-baiting and resentment against unappreciative locals, and this remarkable howler:

Korean journalists do not report the news in the sense that people in West expect. Citizens from western countries expect their news outlets to serve as a check and balance on the government and big business and provide factually based news. In Korea the media often reports what the government and big business want reported as well as what British journalist Michael Breen calls, “speculation, trial balloons, rumour, and deliberate distortions” in the name of ratings.

It takes real chutzpah to say in 2008, after US media complicity with "the government and big business" to stir up support for the invasion of Iraq, and now of Iran as well, that western news outlets provide factually based news at odds with their governments. It's certainly true that the Korean media I've seen have reported what the Korean government and business want about this summer's protests, but that has hardly made them "anti-American" or friendly to the protesters -- very much the opposite. This sort of distortion makes me doubt everything in "GI Korea's" article. And really, if Koreans are so unappreciative of Americans' sacrifices for them, if Koreans are so easily swayed by troublemakers in the pay of Kim Jong Il, why not just pull American troops out of the peninsula?

Last night's memorial vigil drew thousands. According to the Korea Herald ("Candlelight vigils mark death of girls"),

Some 5,000 members of the Free Citizens' Alliance of Korea held a rally in front of Seoul Station at 3 p.m., denouncing the candlelight vigils and marched towards Cheonggye Plaza through Namdaemun and Gwangyo.

"Social instability continues because of candlelight vigil participants," said the alliance of conservative civic groups. "They must immediately stop disrupting state affairs and illegally marching on the roads at night."

If the Free Citizens' Alliance could only draw 5,000, having had plenty of time to prepare and publicize their rally, President Lee is in serious trouble. But then, you knew that. Today both the English-language Korea Herald ("Truckers' strike disrupts supply chain") and Korea Times have lead articles on the truckers' strike. The Times also has an article quoting Korean economists on the problems with Lee's economic policies, and another on the World Bank's downgrading of Korea's "business-friendly" status.

The photo above shows some Korean Vietnam veterans punching a protester. Since the Herald doesn't mention this skirmish, I think it's a safe bet that the vets started the fight. From this photo, it appears that they started by overturning an information table. (Their target bending over the fallen table could be the man I photographed the other day.) Notice the other Korean in the background, in military garb, impassively watching the assault.

And here's an opinion piece on the protests from English OhMyNews, by another foreigner.